Imagine you call this small island your home. Undoubtedly a paradise for living, but hell for athletes traveling to international competitions due to its remote location, northeast of Australia.
That’s indeed one of the problems Iniki Uera faces. The Nauru athlete competes in the -90kg weight category at the Judo Worlds in Tokyo. He faced Czech David Klammert and lost the bout.
“It is really hard to go to international competitions,” agrees Iniki. “Even if it’s just ‘around’ in the Pacific. The airfare is really expensive for the athletes. I’m just very fortunate that the IJF has been sponsoring athletes from Nauru for the past events. We get also help from the Oceania Judo Federation. I got the opportunity to train with some of the universities here in Japan.”
Lack of contenders is a practical problem. “Being an athlete in my part of the world, we’re challenged by the absence of contenders, we actually lack opponents to do randoris with as well as being unable to meet the different styles. Europeans for instance have this advantage. Many competitions there. Hence, when we face European judokas, like it was the case in my first bout, they have a different style compared with the traditional Japanese style.”
How to prepare and cope with this lack? “In Nauru we have a traditional wrestling background. It’s a bit like the Mongolian close wrestling style. To prepare encounters against European rivals, I go and practice – where-ever I am – with judokas that have that similar style. I tend to go and randori to get the feel of the different style.”
Leaving Nauru and experiencing big cities like Tokyo is quite an experience for someone from a small island. “The first encounter I had with a big city was when I landed in Brisbane, Australia. But Tokyo sure is the next level. So, crowded with people and all the high-rises, totally different from my home”, Iniki smiles. “A new experience for me as well, but I tend not to let the environment around me interfere with my preparations. I try to block out everything and focus on what’s ahead of me.”
Competing in the legendary Budokan left quite an impression on Inika. “I had to look around when I entered the field of play. I just had to walk around to absorb the feeling. It was really impressive,” Inika ends.